Thursday, 30 June 2011

NGOs - ‘Stop spoiling Wied il-Għasel…before it’s too late’

NGOs - ‘Stop spoiling Wied il-Għasel…before it’s too late’
by Chiara Bonello

Article published on 30 June 2011 in the Malta Independent

The message of a number of non-governmental organisations yesterday was that the “massacre” at Wied il-Għasel in Mosta must stop, as if the development goes ahead despite the pending appeal, it will be too late to do anything about it.

Representatives of Harsien Patrimonju Mosti, Flimkien ghal-Ambjent Aħjar, Ramblers Association and Nature Trust yesterday gathered for a peaceful rally on Constitution Street, Mosta, overlooking the valley where the proposed development is to take place.

The NGOs have been exerting pressure for this development to stop for around two years, as they claim that that a full development permit was granted, despite a number of factors which should have been considered.

Namely that MEPA had stated that the line of development should be drawn back, to protect the valley, but despite everything in 2009 granted the developer a permit to build a block of 26 flats and the same number of garages.

The permit was approved despite the fact that the site is of ecological importance and a protected site. It has been described by HPM as the green heart of Wied il-Għasel, and enjoys international recognition and protection.

The site is listed as a nature reserve within the world database on protected areas, which is managed by the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

It is also identified as a protected area by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as an area of land or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of natural and associated cultural resources and managed through legal or other effective means.

According to the NGOs present this permit would never have been granted if MEPA had applied its own policies and regulations, instead the development which impedes on the valley in Mosta was permitted.

The full development permit for apartments was only granted based on an outline development permit, which originally applied for the construction of a home for the elderly. Everyone knows these are granted special concessions, Carmel Cacopardo, who is also protesting against the development, explained.

Mr Cacopardo claimed this meant the permit had been obtained based on a lie, as it was not a home for the elderly being constructed now, so the permit could be revoked.

In the meantime the development has been appealed, but the hearing is only to continue in September, and while the appeal remains pending works can, and are, going ahead.

This is because the permit was granted before the MEPA reform, Astrid Vella, from Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar explained, adding that it does not make any sense to claim that if the appeal is granted, then the developer must return the area to its original use.

Ms Vella said that in some cases it has taken up to 14 years to be decided on appeal, and moreover bringing such a site back to its original state is virtually impossible.

The area also has features of cultural heritage, she explained, adding that there were rubble walls, which have already been damaged by the development, as well as a girna and various trees, which could also be damaged.

The organisations have tried to obtain a court injunction on the protest, but this was turned down. “This was the worst blow, as the court basically echoed MEPA’s arguments,” Ms Vella said.

It is also important to point out that not all this took place before the MEPA reform, Ms Vella said, and this after so many promises of Outside Development Zones being respected and protected.

One must also consider the fact that in the meantime the MEPA president himself has admitted that there are currently 76,000 vacant properties, the majority of which are apartments, yet there are plans to build more.

Ramblers Association President, Alex Vella, said the MEPA reform, in his opinion, was a case of ‘old wine in new bottles’, as many faces tended to remain the same and the changes, save for a few, were mostly cosmetic.

Mr Vella said they were condemning the rampant attack on valleys across Malta, when MEPA has clear policies for their protection. It is also ironic that it does not grant permission for cleaning of these valleys, as it might destroy flora found in them, and as a result they are in a terrible state, he said.

“It is important to save the few remaining green areas we have, but instead we are reducing them to mere water channels,” he said.